Release Date: May 14th 2013
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
It’s been 10 years since CCM pop/adult contemporary legend Amy Grant recorded a full album of original material (with the last one being 2003’s Simple Things). From then til now Amy has been recording hymns projects and best of albums, as well as the partly new 2010 album Somewhere Down The Road, with re-recordings of old classics and favourites. For fans and those who were avid listeners of her previous 13 studio albums (which doesn’t really include me- I’ve only recently started listening to Amy’s music thoroughly), it may seem that her best albums were in the 80’s and 90’s, with her songs “El Shaddai”, “That’s What Love Is For”, “Every Heartbeat”, “Lead Me On”, “I Will Remember You”, “Baby Baby”, and “Takes A Little Time” all highlights from the illustrious and well-respected 35 year old career. Yet with modern hits “Simple Things” and “Better Than A Hallelujah”, Amy has continued to forge ahead and create new anthems and songs for people to sing, instead of just dwelling in the past. Amy is still going strong, and recording songs better than ever; and together with Michael W Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman, she rounds out the group of solo artist veterans whom I respect so much because of their longevity. While Amy has so much experience behind her, that doesn’t mean she’s ready to quit- in fact this week How Mercy Looks From Here releases, and it seems like a new chapter. From the opening note of “If I Could See (What Angels See)” to the 2 and a half minute album closer “Greet The Day”, we are given eleven gems of treasure and insight into Amy’s last 10 years. There are plenty of stories to tell from that time, and within the 45 minute track listing, we are transported into Amy’s world, a joyful and hopeful place where God is glorified and we are motivated and encouraged. It’s also great when Amy’s friends sing with her on a few songs, from Carole King, James Taylor, and Will Hoge, to Sheryl Crow and Eric Paslay.
The opener “If I Could See (What Angels See)” is an upbeat melody oozing with creativity and purpose. With great lengths of vivid imagery as Amy tries to picture herself seeing ‘…what the angels see, behind the walls, beneath the sea, under the avalanche, through the trees, gone would be the mystery…’; we are met with Amy longing to see life through God’s eyes, yet ultimately realising and accepting the fact that God is God and we’re not. If we could see how God sees the world, it would be brilliant and we’d gain a lot of perspective and knowledge, yet God knowing everything and us having finite minds brings out trust and total reliance and dependence with our Maker and Saviour. As humans we tend to worry about this and that and not trust those around us, yet Amy’s country influenced guitar led opener brings us reassurance, and sets the tone for an album full of eternal truths and inspiration. “Better Not To Know”, a slower acoustic track featuring Vince Gill, is next, and shows Amy’s vulnerable and emotional side as a personal ballad is brought to the fore that tells a story about God’s unending favour, providence and kindness, and about the beauty of not knowing some things in life. Having bought a farm in 1988 and planted 75 trees, Amy returned back to the property 20 years later finding the trees abundant with fruit, after many barren years. It was a sign of God’s favour and faithfulness over Amy’s life, and Amy’s perspective was that if she knew that the trees weren’t going to fruit for a long time, maybe she wouldn’t have bought the farm at all, however not knowing and being kept in the dark was a positive in that scenario, as Amy reaped the benefits of God’s goodness. Though hindsight can be a good thing, sometimes it can hinder our personal growth.
4 of the tracks on How Mercy Looks From Here features guest vocals with well-renowned and respected musicians. The quiet and calm “Don’t Try So Hard” features James Taylor on backing vocals and encourages us to rest in the promises and grace of God instead of working hard and trying to earn His forgiveness and favour. Just like the lyrics portray that ‘…God gives you grace and you can’t earn it, don’t think that you’re not worth it because you are; He gave you His love and He’s not leaving, He gave you His Son so you’d believe it…’; God’s love for us isn’t based on our successes or failures and goes beyond our works- God loves us because we are His children. Musically, Amy’s brilliant acoustic guitar and piano duet with James is as good as she has ever recorded, and is very strong lyrically also. Segueing into “Deep As It Is Wide”, guest vocals Eric Paslay and Sheryl Crow join Amy on the emphatic anthem with similar themes of God’s love- this time about the depth of God’s immeasurable and unexplainable love. The height, depth, length and width of God’s love and devotion to us cannot be quantified or measured, and as Sheryl, Eric and Amy vibrantly and richly describe God’s love and how heaven could be like, I find myself loving this song every time I listen; it’s got that special epic feel to it. The country twang and honest lyrics are a plus too.
The other two duets are polar opposites musically. “Shovel In Hand” with Will Hoge is a sombre tale about Amy’s son Matt burying his best friend in 2007 after he passed away in 2007. With piano, light acoustic guitar and gentle percussion as a backdrop for the brutal emotion and transparency that Amy brings, we are met with a harsh reality that time on Earth is fleeting and we need to make our relationships with our loved ones count, as well as our relationship with God- we must not take our days on Earth for granted and live with no regrets. Also, the song is a wakeup call for those who think they have time left to commit to Jesus- you never know what’s going to happen in a few years, let alone tomorrow, so why not learn more about Jesus while we’re alive and breathing today? And “Our Time Is Now” featuring Carole King, and co-written with Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman, is an upbeat acoustic ballad filled with hand claps as beats, depicting how time flies and we have to make the most of it. An in-your-face statement that we should declare that ‘…our time is now, let us sing before our time runs out…’; this favourite reminds me that every moment of my existence is a gift from God and one more reason why I should be praising God and walking into what He has planned for me for the rest of my life, and seeking his will.
Potential radio single “Here” is sure to be a hit amongst listeners and critics alike with the captivating piano and mesmerising electric guitar riffs anchoring the song musically as it speaks about the omnipresence of God and that He is here with us, even in our trials and storms of life. That may be hard to understand when we’re in the situation, but God said countless times in the Bible that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us, and that’s a promise that we can hold onto; a promise we know will always be true. Because God has said to us that ‘…I am here in the dark, I’m the music in your heart, I’m the song in every corner of the sky…’; we can be comforted that God’s plan is for the good of those who love Him, and those who trust that He will see them through any circumstance. “Golden” is quite different musically, and has an ambient mystical atmosphere, as ethereal and nostalgic keys and synth drive this ‘80’s inspired ballad that speaks once again about the immeasurable love of the Father for us, and that God always shows up at the right time. Amy also sings about being present, supporting and believing in a friend or loved one in “Not Giving Up”, which could also be viewed as God singing down to us, and highlights the importance of friends in one’s life, as well as people who can keep us accountable on our walk with Christ. As brothers and sisters in Christ it is our duty to not be judgmental and love our fellow believers as we raise them up and provide them with a listening ear. Well done Amy for reminding us that we all need someone to talk to, and someone to back and support us no matter what.
The album closer “Greet The Day”, co-written with Cindy Morgan, is a short but sweet prayer to Jesus similar in lyrics and theme to The Lord’s Prayer, and is wrapped up in a southern gospel type flavour as electric guitars and country style beats make this track a nice way to finish off the album. The poignant lyrics of ‘…hey, hey, this is how I greet the day…’ speaks volumes about our attitude to every sunrise, and that we should greet each day with thanks and gratitude to God, and gratefulness that we are still breathing and still have an unfulfilled purpose here on this Earth to glorify Him. Yet it is the honest, soothing and uplifting title track that blows me away on How Mercy Looks From Here. With poignant and heartfelt lyrics and Amy using personal circumstances that occurred in 2010 such as the death of her cousin and marriage of her daughter to carve out a motivational message that everything in life happens for a reason and that God’s grace is ever present during the times when you need it the most; it seems that the title track brings the themes of the album all together. About the love of God, the faithfulness and mercy and providence of the One who will never forsake us and will always be with us and that his grace is all abounding and overflowing; How Mercy Looks From Here is a gem from start to finish!
“…Living matters. Celebrating life matters. Seeing the value in hard times matters. Relationships and people matter. Faith matters…Life prepares us for the journey. You don’t know what’s ahead and that is one of the great things about getting older in a framework of faith. Faith is the one thing that stands the test of time…”. Dedicated to her mother who passed away in 2010, Amy Grant’s new album is one full of songs that matter, and songs with stories that are very close to her heart. As her mother asked her to sing songs that matter, shortly before she died; Amy has had new life injected into her singing and song-writing, and together with producer Marshall Altman, has recorded an album that will surely be a classic in many, many years. It’s hard to pick a second single from the album- the songs are all so strong, and no doubt listeners will be singing Amy’s new tracks for plenty of years to come. Releasing on the same day as Shane And Shane’s new album; How Mercy Looks From Here will be on my playlist for a long time. Well done Amy for creating an album that reminds us why she is one of the best female singer/songwriters currently, and why she may record for a few more years yet!
- If I Could See [What Angels See]
- Better Not To Know
- Don’t Try So Hard (with James Taylor)
- Deep As It Is Wide (featuring Sheryl Crow & Eric Paslay)
- Shovel In Hand (with Will Hoge)
- Our Time Is Now (with Carole King)
- Not Giving Up
- How Mercy Looks From Here
- Greet The Day